The UK government is urging all British nationals to leave Tokyo as soon as possible amid fresh safety fears.
The Foreign Office this evening issued a statement recommending that all Britons leave the area for their own safety. At least 17,000 UK citizens live in Japan, the vast majority of them in Tokyo.
The plea came as the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in northeast Japan worsened amid concerns of a radiation leak.
Frantic attempts to cool down the reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant following Friday’s earthquake and tsunami had to be suspended after high radiation levels were recorded.
Technicians later returned, but it was another setback in Japanese efforts to avoid a nuclear catastrophe.
The Foreign Office issued advice to any British nationals in – or to the north of – Tokyo to consider leaving the area because of the ‘evolving situation’ in Fukushima and potential disruptions to the supply of goods, transport, communications and power.
Dozens of other governments have issued similar recommendations, including Australia, Germany and France.
The French government today claimed that Japan was losing control of the situation at Fukushima and urged its nationals in Tokyo to leave the country or head to southern Japan.
Industry Minister Eric Besson said: ‘Let’s not beat about the bush. They have visibly lost the essential of control (of the situation). That is our analysis, in any case, it’s not what they are saying.’
Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet branded the situation a ‘catastrophe’ and said the latest information ‘does not lead to optimism’.
‘We recommend that all French citizens who do not have a good reason to stay in Tokyo either take a plane or, if they absolutely insist on staying, head south,’ said, noted there was no official evacuation order.
The government has asked Air France to mobilise aircraft in Asia to assist with departures.
Germany’s embassy in Tokyo has been ‘partly relocated’ to the consulate general in Osaka, according to officals.
Meanwhile, Japanese emergency teams say they are ‘not afraid to die’ as they face dangerous levels of radiation in the fight to stop catastrophe at the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant.
The stricken power station was abandoned for hours today, as soaring radiation forced the emergency workers to flee for their lives and authorities were reduced to spraying reactors with police water cannons.
But 180 workers this afternoon bravely headed back towards the plant to pump water on to the over-heating reactors. Some experts speculated that they were on a ‘suicide mission’ as options to control radiation leaks rapidly run out.
The group of 180 employees rotate shifts working at the plant in teams of 50 men. The men – nicknamed the ‘Fukushima Fifty’ – had this morning been pulled back 500 yards from the complex as radiation levels became too dangerous.
However the technicians later headed back in to the reactors for difficult and dangerous work, wearing radiation suits and gas masks or oxygen tanks that provide little protection from the invisible radiation rays bombarding their bodies.
It came after the French government launched an extraordinary attack accusing the Japanese of losing control of the situation and hiding the full scale of the disaster.
Military helicopters also made a failed attempt to drop water on the reactors from above and police water cannons, usually used in riot control, were even requested to spray the site amid desperate efforts to cool nuclear fuel. The helicopter missions are said to have failed because radiation levels put the crews in danger.
The emergency teams have been pumping sea water into reactors using fire engines, but those efforts are thought to have stopped as the workers were pulled out.
A source in contact with emergency teams told CBS they were ‘not afraid to die’ as they fight to stop a meltdown amid the dangerous levels of radiation.
A succession of experts has also warned that the situation is rapidly deteriorating and raised fears for the lives of the emergency teams.
‘We’re very close now to the point of no return,’ Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, said. ‘It’s gotten worse. We’re talking about workers coming into the reactor perhaps as a suicide mission and we may have to abandon ship,’ he told ABC.
Fears of ‘an apocalypse’ were raised by European officials as radiation levels soared. In another attack, French Industry Minister Eric Besson said: ‘Let’s not beat about the bush. They have visibly lost the essential of control (of the situation). That is our analysis, in any case, it’s not what they are saying.’
Those fears are stoking a mass exodus from the country, with wealthy foreign experts engaged in a scramble to book private jets.
Charter companies reported charging as much as $160,000 for a flight to Tokyo. with one saying it had a request from 14 bankers who ‘did not care about price.’
Terrified passengers also crammed into Tokyo’s Narita international airport, 150 miles from the stricken plant, in a desperate bid to escape the country. Lufthansa and KLM today became the first airlines to cacnel flights to Tokyo.
In a sign of mounting panic, Cabinet Secretary Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has already warned that the cooling efforts may not work.
He said: ‘It’s not so simple that everything will be resolved by pouring in water. We are trying to avoid creating other problems.’
Nuclear experts said the solutions being proposed to quell radiation leaks at the complex were last-ditch efforts to stem what could well be remembered as one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.
The biggest concerns centre around the four over-heating reactors, and in particular radioactive steam pouring out of the plutonium-fuelled reactor number three which exploded on Monday.
Plutonium is far more hazardous to health than uranium, which is used to power the other five reactors on the site.
There has been damage to four reactors at the Fukushima , three of which were hit by explosions and another caught fire.
Reactor number four is the second highest concern after a nuclear fuel storage pond was exposed to the atmosphere after a fire.
A fifth and six reactor, which were previously unharmed, were today being sprayed with water amid reports that they too were heating up.